What life was like before vaccines

If you’ve ever wondered what life was like before vaccines, or what life could be like if we allow immunization rates to fall, now you know. Or, at least, now you have a sense – suffering, death, anxiety, fear, poverty, and more. In 2020, we will certainly fare better in our fight against the novel Coronavirus than our ancestors did against diseases of centuries past. Nowadays, we have public health infrastructure (though massively underfunded) and the benefit of advanced medicine and technology to help us fight this dreaded disease. And, yet, without a way to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and without reliable medications to treat the disease, we WILL see extreme physical, psychological, and financial suffering, reminiscent of days gone by.

If only we had a way to harness the body’s immune system to fight off this illness before it takes hold….

Speaking of vaccines
As we hurtle towards a terrible milestone of over 100,000 American lives lost to SARS-CoV-2, and as we anticipate a resurgence of cases in the fall, scientists are racing to develop a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. We are desperate to find a way to keep people from contracting the illness and to get people safely back to work and school. Our personal and financial health depend on it.

I would love to tell you that we are close. Indeed, things are moving along at a clip previously unknown to vaccine science. International scientific cooperation (for some reason, this phrase always makes me think of Harry Potter), newer technologies, and a foundation of prior work to develop SARS and MERS vaccines are allowing a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine to be within reach in the coming 12-24 months. Whereas, it would normally takes many years, if not decades, to make a new vaccine.

But one to two years is a long time to wait
A lot of human suffering can happen in 1-2 years. And as we go further along in this process of sheltering in place, certainly as states begin to lift restrictions, we WILL get complacent. I see it already, even in myself (and I’m pretty darn fanatical about following guidelines). I am certainly less vigilant about cleaning surfaces around the house than I was at the beginning of the pandemic. The kids are less vigilant about washing hands. People in states where the stay-at-home orders are lifted are returning to normal gathering as if nothing ever happened, without physical distancing and without masks.

And because people have been afraid to go to medical clinics, immunization rates for the diseases we DO have vaccines against have dropped by about 40% – 70% (depending on the vaccine in question). Remember, prevention of the spread of diseases like measles and whooping cough requires a high level of community vaccination. And don’t forget, flu season is right around the corner! How horrific would it be to have the flu and COVID19 at the same time? It can happen. And how devastating would it be if we see a resurgence of other deadly diseases, like flu and measles, putting our citizens in the hospital JUST when we are needing those beds and ventilators for severely ill COVID19 patients.

Decrease in vaccination rates during COVID pandemic

Graph from Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Routine Pediatric Vaccine Ordering and Administration — United States, 2020

A disaster is brewing
If we don’t act now to improve our pediatric immunization rates, returning our kids to school in the fall is going to be a disaster. If we don’t push aggressively to get every American vaccinated against influenza in the fall, we will see a rising death toll and worsening financial collapse, as society rushes to close back up again so that hospitals can handle the surge.

Now is the time for every doctor’s office, dentist’s office, pharmacy, school district, employer and politician who cares a whit about getting our society back to “normal” to be advocating for vaccination.

Make no mistake, we will encounter opposition
The same people out there claiming that the SARS-CoV-2 is a hoax are the ones who are so vocally anti-vaccine. Paranoia and conspiracy theories abound with this group. But remember… While vocal, they are, thankfully, the small percentage of Americans. The majority of us believe in the value of science and public health. We see the greater good of vaccinating. We care about our fellow human beings and will do what it takes to protect each other and our society.

OUR voices need to be louder than those who will argue against vaccinations. I can already hear what they will be saying.

• You’re just using the fear of this pandemic to push your socialist agenda.
• You don’t care about individual rights.
• Vaccines are just another way for the government to exert control over the people.
• Etcetera

OUR voices need to louder, not because we are expecting to change the minds of the people spouting this nonsense. Our voices need to be louder because we want to diminish the influence they may have over people who are generally reasonable folks but may have some doubts or questions about vaccines. And then, we need to have the information and approach that will help them gain a greater comfort level with the safety and efficacy of immunizations.

Side note
First, please don’t send hateful emails because of what I’m about to say. I don’t agree with taking down anti-vaccine, anti-science videos and posts. I understand that the motivation for doing so is good. We don’t want to spread false information that could cause physical harm or set our public health efforts back if people choose to believe what they are reading or hearing. But, people who believe that stuff are going to believe it whether or not it’s on the web. Removing this information only puts doubt into the minds of those folks who may be more on the fence. Case in point, I have literally had a patient tell me recently that the reason the Judy Mikovits “Plandemic” video was removed from YouTube is because “they” don’t want us knowing the “truth”.

I propose that we don’t take these posts or videos down (unless of course they are actively advocating killing or other crimes). Instead, we should have disclaimers ALL OVER THE PLACE stating that the information contained in the video or post has been debunked multiple times over by scientific/medical bodies, that the data was manipulated, or that the work of the person making the claims has been called into question – whatever the case may be. There should be links to accurate, proven information. Only after people look at this can they then access the video or post. That’s my two cents.

What can you do?
Here is my call to action.

Call to action

Image from Pixabay

1. Make sure YOU and YOUR CHILDREN are up to date on your vaccines. Call your provider to find out. Most doctor’s offices are still doing vaccinations and some will even bring them out to your car so you don’t have to come into the building to get them done.

2. Make a concerted effort to get your flu shot this year (aim for September or October). If you don’t usually get a flu shot, you should strongly re-consider. While not perfect, it is the BEST thing we have to decrease the severity of illness from the flu. It significantly reduces the chance of ending up in the hospital or dying from the influenza. If you have more questions about the flu vaccine, read my blogpost on the subject here.

3. Lobby your employer to strongly encourage vaccination for their employees. In many hospitals and clinics, flu vaccination is required for employment (unless there is a medical reason not to get the immunization, of course). This is because, as medical providers, we have a duty to “First, do no harm.” That means we will do everything we can to keep from giving you, our patients, a potentially deadly illness. In my humble opinion, the same rule should apply to teachers, whose top priority is the wellbeing of our children.

4. Advocate for vaccinations with your family and friends. I know this can be tough. But with love and persistence, it is doable. If you want more information on how to do this successfully, consider picking up my book Let’s Talk Vaccines: A Clinician’s Guide to Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy and Saving Lives. I wrote this to help my fellow clinicians in their vaccine discussions with patients but the information can be equally helpful in dealing with questioning family and friends. And I PROMISE, it is written without medical jargon and can be similarly well understood and utilized by non-clinicians to promote vaccination and community health.

Let’s Talk Vaccines

Image from Amazon.com

PS – It feels weird suggesting you buy my book but I’m working on getting over the awkwardness of promoting my work. I have spent years of my medical career trying to educate patients about vaccines and other preventive health measures. I spend many uncompensated hours giving talks to help my medical partners learn how to successfully work with their vaccine-hesitant patients. This book allows me to do so on a greater scale than can be accomplished during a one-on-one patient visit or during one medical lecture. Please know that any profits I make from the book are used to buy more books and give them away.

So, let’s do all we can to push for vaccinations, for stronger funding for public health, and for greater investment in scientific advancement. We can ALL make a difference in the health of our world, through our individual choices regarding vaccination and through our advocacy with others. I’m so glad that I have you as a partner in the effort to keep our people healthy and safe. Let’s not go back to what life was like before vaccines.

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